Congratulations to Tom Hill – 2016 Alfa Romeo Champion

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I first heard about Donington when my parents gave me a “momento” of their visit there in October 1937 – a 5/- ticket for the Donington Intenational Grand Prix which saw that much written about battle of the “Silver Arrows, won by Auto Union star Bernd Rosemeyer from the Mercedes of Manfred von Brauchitsch.

In those pre-war days, the circuit was very different. Not only much narrower for most of its length, Melbourne loop and pit straight apart, but also running down to the Melbourne Hairpin from roughly where the GP circuit hairpin is now. It then returned uphill to approach Red Gate from the opposite direction through what became in more recent times the Sunday Market. Single file was required at Coppice. My own first race meeting at Donington, on the circuit rebuilt by Tom Wheatcroft, was in August 1977. This was for a round of the British Saloon Car Championship, the BTCC’s predecessor, when Alfa Romeo Dealer Team ran an Alfetta GTV 2000 and a 1.6 GT. However, it was not until April 1984 that the Alfa Romeo Championship raced there. Nick Sismey was on pole in his Lahoma Alfasud Ti but did not start the 10 lap race following a trivial electrical problem. Winner was Phil Rowley’s Alfasud, followed home by the 2000GTV of Pietro Cacciaviello and another Sud driven by John Liddle. Since then, we have been to Donington during most seasons with many memorable visits, often involving the use of lights in murky conditions and qualifying this time was to be no exception.

Being banished to the far end of the paddock reminded me of what the surface used to be like before the main area was covered in tarmac. Horrible gravel which flooded easily and drained poorly. On Saturday afternoon some of our cars were sitting forlornly in pools of water – even inside the Bianco marquee! Nonetheless, after fresh rain at 3.30 with our session due to go ahead at 4.55, decisions on tyres and set-up had to be made. Not that there was much choice – the Modified and Power Trophy cars would be on wets and the Twin Spark drivers would be looking for as much tread as possible. The Modified class had continued what appeared to be its unwritten rota – none of the four modified cars that appeared at Brands were entered this time, but were replaced by three that we had seen earlier in the season. Graham Seager was back with his 2015 Championship winning 3.2 supercharged GTV, front suspension now repaired after Oulton and proudly bearing “no.1”. Castle Combe winner Bryan Shrubb was hoping for more success with his familiar orange 33 16v while it was good to see Andy Page again with his Giulietta 116 Turbo – not that he had far to come as he lives in nearby Kegworth. Power Trophy points leader Ron Davidson was entered in his 164, having enjoyed an excellent second race at Brands when he had decided to let the Twin Sparks know that he was racing for track position as well being   in pursuit of Ray Foley’s 147. Ray also came away from Brands with a grin on his face and was determined to try closing the points gap to Ron once more.

There was all the usual interest in the outcome of the Twin Spark Cup, particularly following Dave Messenger’s double win at Brands. Could he repeat it and could he boost his challenge for the runner-up spot in the Championship? In the absence of Andy Robinson, it was likely that he would end the weekend third but would Simon Cresswell still be too far ahead. What was pretty certain was that overall championship title would end in the hands of Tom Hill. He only needed to finish 6th or higher in either of the races to reach the “magic” and unchallengable 225 points. But Tom likes racing and he welcomed the entry of not only Paul Plant but also James Ford, a prospect which, added to Dave Messenger’s target, gave us the prospect of some good battles at the front. All four were in their usual 156s as were Simon Cresswell, Andy Inman, Paul Webster and Mike Tydeman. To these would be added the Bianco renta’ 156 which has now been bought by Richard Ford. Richard had previously impressed with the car at Zolder. Sadly missing was Andy Hancock. His 156 had been damaged at Brands and this meant that he might lose his 4th place in the Twin Spark Cup standings. We had been informed during the week leading up to Donington that Stacey Dennis would not be there, so it was a pleasure to find her black and pink 147 in the paddock with Stacey raring to go. Andrew Fulcher had the second 147 in the entry having enjoyed his first outing with it at Brands. Remember October last year? Matt Daly winning the second race with his 145? Unfortunately, Matt couldn’t be with us this time but we did have a 145, Roger Evans at last bringing out his example and we wondered if he could repeat Matt’s feat, although to be fair this would be the first time Roger had even driven the car. Our eligibility scrutineer Kevin Lewis, assisted by Panel member David Thomas, was paying a lot of attention to seats, belts and helmets following the scare of Andrew Bourke’s accident at Brands and they were able to make several recommendations.

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Donington in the rain is not the easiest of circuits as the drainage if often less than perfect. Another factor for most of our drivers was the amount of misting up within the car and there were several visits to the pits to see if better vision could somehow be achieved – others just put up with the ever diminishing view ahead of them. Half way through the 20 minute session, Graham Seager put in a lap (1’35.723”) that he was not to get anywhere near again but Andy Page got close and then, on his very last lap, when Graham and Bryan seemed to have slowed down, he set a 1’34.932” to grab a last minute pole, much to his obvious delight. Bryan Shrubb would end up third but another to set his best lap at the end was Ray Foley, with an excellent 1’42.476” in the 147 GTA, 3” quicker than Ron Davidson although the 164 was matching the Twin Spark times.

Among the Twin Sparks, Paul Plant was looking to have the edge on Tom Hill with a best of 1’43.031” but with three minutes to go, Tom suddenly leapt to the top of the times with a brave 1’42.031” which would stay as the class pole despite a last lap effort by Paul. Dave Messenger was not on the pace of the leading duo but his 1’44.152” was good enough to annexe third spot, 0.275” clear of Simon Cresswell. 5th quickest was James Ford, just settling himself in but Roger Evans was pleased with his 6th quickest time in the 145. Everyone else was rather left behind and hoping hard for a dry day on Sunday. There were plenty of tales afterwards of the joys of aquaplaning down the Craners which much demonstrations of wheel twirling and the photographs on the website show just how much water and spray there was for everyone  to contend with.

Happily by Sunday morning the rain had gone, the paddock puddles had drained away and the track was dry. 10.35 was the designated start time but this was delayed a few minutes while some errant  cars from a previous race were retrieved. Everyone seems to be used to the split grid and Twin Spark delayed start arrangements now, even if the actual way the flag is shown and dropped always causes discussion with the Clerk of the Course at drivers briefings. An additional problem is that not all circuits have suitable gantries for the starter but Donington was not one of them.

Race 1

The starts for both groups were fairly straightforward with Graham Seager and Andy Page leading the way while Tom Hill, Paul Plant and Dave Messenger set out their stall at the front of the Twin Spark group. In fact Dave briefly got alongside Paul but was tucked in behind Tom and couldn’t prevent Paul taking the outside line and slipping into 2nd place. James Ford quickly moved up to fourth in class, chased by the fast starting Stacey Dennis who had overtaken six cars by the time they exited Red Gate, helped a little by Simon Cresswell getting slightly sideways and bottling up the field behind him, during which Richard Ford received a hefty clonk from Mike Tydeman. At the end of the opening lap Graham Seager was under a second clear of Andy Page but Bryan Shrubb was already 4” back from the forced induction cars. Ray Foley and Ron Davidson were showing that the delayed start was working well as both were still  well clear of the Twin Spark battle led Tom Hill and Paul Plant with Dave Messenger very much in contention ahead of James Ford and Stacey Dennis. Roger Evans was going well in his 145 heading a five car group that had Mike Tydeman, Andy Inman, Simon Cresswell and Andrew Fulcher in it while Richard Ford headed for the pits to check damage to the driver’s door. He would eventually resume 2 laps down.

It wasn’t long before Graham Seager began to open the gap to Andy Page who was now having to watch in his mirrors for the approaching Bryan Shrubb while Ray Foley was equally well aware of the presence of Ron Davidson. Throughout lap 2, Paul Plant was looking for an opportunity to pass Tom Hill but without success until he outbraked him at the Roberts Chicane, only to overshoot slightly and allow Tom back ahead. Equally, Dave Messenger was being hassled by James Ford. Stacey Dennis continued to lead Roger Evans but Simon Cresswell was making no progress in getting through the tight group behind. Going down towards Red Gate, Dave Messenger managed to get alongside Paul Plant but the latter was much braver on the brakes and surged back into second place although he then ran wide at the Old Hairpin.  0.8” covered the leading TSC trio. Going into lap 4, James Ford saw his opportunity to pass Dave Messenger going into Red Gate and as they crossed the line at the end of the lap battle was very much joined, with Dave Messenger holding a watching brief 1.1” further back. Roger Evans had passed Stacey Dennis in lap 3 but Stacey was now lapping more quickly than Roger and was closing in on the 145. Up at the front of the race, Andy Page was still holding on to Graham Seager, the gap have extended to 2.02” but Bryan Shrubb was now keeping up the pressure on the Giulietta in third place. The Power Trophy drivers had seen the Twin Sparks getting a little closer and had started to lap a second or so quicker to keep themselves out of danger.

At Coppice on lap 5 Paul Plant drew level with Tom Hill and got ahead before the chicane. Tom was then slow on the pit straight and James Ford was able to slip in front at Red Gate but Tom recovered quickly to give chase, Dave Messenger also staying in the hunt so that the four cars crossed the line just 1.1” apart at the end of lap 6, giving us all some super entertainment. Overall, Andy Page and Bryan Shrubb were continuing their Modified contest but then, on lap 8 Andy spun the Giulietta on the exit of Macleans, losing some 18” in the process and leaving Bryan comfortable 2nd, now 6” behind Graham Seager. At the start of lap 8, James Ford had tried the inside line at Red Gate but Paul blocked him off, then ran wide but James was through in to the lead. Paul managed to hold onto 2nd place but Tom had to brake to avoid him before the trio set off to resume their fight while Dave Messenger enjoyed the grandstand view!

The four Twin Spark front runners were line astern as they raced down the incline towards Red Gate at the start of lap 9 but Dave Messenger pulled out to try and get alongside Tom Hill. James Ford appeared to go too fast into the corner, the 156 went lairy, tail out onto the outside kerb before coming back onto the track and making contact with Paul Plant’s 156 that had followed him wide. James went broadside before spinning onto the gravel causing Tom Hill a frightening moment as he wondered which way to go, having to brake to avoid hitting the rear of Paul’s car. But then the Plant/Hill battle just resumed with Dave Messenger right on their tail. James Ford had managed to gather it all up again, losing 10” in the process but staying ahead of Roger Evans. Simon Cresswell had made some progress and was now chasing Stacey Dennis while Mike Tydeman was still ahead of Andy Inman and Andrew Fulcher. With 10 laps completed, Paul Plant, Tom Hill and Dave Messenger were separated by just 0.8” and about to be lapped by Graham Seager which delayed Dave slightly although he seemed to be able to close up on Paul and Tom again. This was the status quo until they were lapped by Bryan Shrubb when Tom seemed to slow slightly – missed gear?- at the start of lap 13 with only four minutes to go. Dave Messenger managed to get alongside and even close on Paul but normality quickly resumed. Roger Evans had been suffering a drop in power and pulled into the pits while Simon Cresswell had taken over 5th in class from Stacey Dennis.

Graham Seager took the chequered flag 8.7” clear of Bryan Shrubb and Andy Page coaxed his Giulietta home with what later transpired to be a melting exhaust manifold. Ray Foley and Ron Davidson were 4th and 5th overall, eventually separated by 9” in their Power Trophy contest. As the Twin Spark cars passed the commentary box to start their last lap, it looked as though the race was Paul Plant’s but at The Old Hairpin he ran onto the dirt on the exit, letting a surprised Tom Hill back into the lead and an almost equally surprised Dave Messenger nearly into 2nd at Macleans. In the end a delighted Tom crossed the line 1.46” ahead of Paul Plant to confirm his 2016 Championship title win while Dave Messenger finished 3rd right on Paul’s tail. James Ford was a comfortable 4th ahead of Simon Cresswell, Andy Inman, Michael Tydeman and Andrew Fulcher. Paul Webster, Jeremy Chilton and Richard Ford completed the list of finishers as we all caught our breath!

There was plenty of work to do before race 2 which was due to start at 4.35. Richard Ford needed to have his damaged driver’s door fixed, Mike Tydeman’s silver 156 had to have much tape over dented panels and Roger Evans was seen with the fuel pump of his 145 in pieces. “Clogged like old coffee grounds!” he said as he cleared it out. Andy Page was trying to make a repair to the Giulietta turbo’s exhaust manifold. Eventually, though, everyone was ready for the call to the assembly area.

Race 1 Results

Winners
Modified Graham Seager
Power Trophy Ray Foley
Twin Spark Cup  Tom Hill

View full results

Race 2

As the red lights went out for the Modified and Power Trophy cars, it was Bryan Shrubb who made the best getaway and led Graham Seager into Red Gate. 5” behind, the Union Flag waved away the Twin Sparks with Paul Plant and Tom Hill side by side until Tom was able to slide into a briefly held class lead before Paul edged ahead at the Old Hairpin with Dave Messenger third. At Macleans there was a great move by Tom down the inside of Paul to regain the class lead while at the front of the race Graham Seager wasted little time in taking over at the front from Bryan Shrubb and Andy Page with Ray Foley asserting himself ahead of Ron Davidson. At the end of lap 2, Tom Hill ran wide on the kerb coming out of the chicane and lost momentum, allowing Paul Plant to pull alongside and then get back into the lead, Dave Messenger almost managing to grab second place but having to steer clear of Tom making a late dive for the inside at Red Gate. Half a second back, James Ford had emerged fourth in class in front of Simon Cresswell who had got ahead of Stacey Dennis on lap 1 at the Craners. 7th was Andy Inman in front of Mike Tydeman who, in his turn, was being pursued by Richard Ford.

At no time did it looks as though Graham Seager was going to lose his second win of the day unless some mechanical problem intervened and Bryan Shrubb knew that second was the best he could do. From the start he had no challenge from Andy Page who clearly still had a problem. He eventually retired on lap 7 with a serious misfire, his exhaust repair having not worked and part of the wiring loom melting as a result. This lifted Ray Foley’s 147 GTA up to 3rd ahead of Ron Davidson who was putting in an impressive performance in the 164, running just 3.5” behind. Meanwhile, in what was a continuation of a superb Twin Spark weekend, Paul Plant, Tom Hill and Dave Messenger were covered by a mere 0.8” as they crossed the line at end of lap 6, with James Ford a further 0.5” behind Dave. Simon Cresswell was in a bit of no-man’s- land but still 5th in class while Stacey Dennis had suddenly found her mirrors full of Andy Inman’s purple 156. Roger Evans, starting from the back was now making an impression on the duelling Mike Tydeman and Richard Ford.

Into lap 7, Tom Hill was close enough to look at the inside line into Red Gate but Paul Plant went all defensive and Tom had to think of another way he could outfumble him. Dave Messenger was still having to keep a close eye on where James Ford was –answer, right on his tail! We couldn’t predict the eventual outcome but nothing really changed until lap 13 when Dave Messenger got onto the rough on the exit of the Old Hairpin. This allowed James Ford to pounce before Macleans and to finish the lap a strong 3rd. Just ahead it was not all over as Tom Hill almost got alongside Paul Plant at Red Gate while James Ford was lapping quicker than either of them and slightly dropping Dave Messenger. Earlier, Roger Evans, had passed Richard Ford and then Mike Tydeman before the chicane but on lap 10 Mike had re-taken the place only to lose it again to a determined Roger at Red Gate on lap 13.

Having completed 15 laps, Graham Seager took the chequered flag 21.9” clear of Bryan Shrub. Ray Foley was a happy third, as he had been in race 2 at Brands, but Ron Davidson had given him a good run for his money, crossing the line just 0.94” behind, having set fastest lap in the process. James Ford was definitely quicker than the other Twin Spark leaders at this point. Tom chanced his arm in attempt to pass Paul round the outside Macleans and did get ahead but subsequent contact left Tom kicking up the dust on the edge of the track. James saw his chance but couldn’t quite capitalise on it. He tried again on the approach to Coppice but the recovered Tom Hill blocked the way and almost allowed Dave Messenger to regain third but James Ford kept to the outside line to slot back onto Tom’s tail. All this suddenly took the pressure off Paul Plant who crossed the line with a 1.7” advantage to take his first Twin Spark win of the year. Tom Hill just kept his runner-up spot from the hard pushing James Ford and Dave Messenger. Simon Cresswell had drifted away in 5th place but had stayed 4” clear of Stacey Dennis who had just managed to keep Andy Inman at bay.

On the previous lap Roger Evans had got past Mike Tydeman again at Red Gate and on the approach to the chicane Richard Ford had been alongside Mike but the latter held his line with some late braking, barging through the corner and then using Roger’s 145 as a buffer on the exit while Richard spun in the confusion, stalling in the middle of the road. With marshals on the track trying to push away Richard’s car it was somewhat dangerous but fortunately they were out of the way before Paul Plant arrived. Mike Tydeman finished the race ahead of Roger Evans who was suffering from binding rear brakes and was nearly caught by Andrew Fulcher. Jeremy Chilton and Paul Webster completed the list of finishers. 

 Race 2 Results

Winners
Modified Graham Seager
Power Trophy Ray Foley
Twin Spark Cup  Paul Plant

View full results

With Tom Hill confirmed as our 2016 Champion, attention turned to the  open runner-up position which was still held by Simon Cresswell but with the points gap to Dave Messenger, now ahead of Andy Robinson, reduced from 25 to 19 points. Andy already had won the Modified class  but Ron Davidson maintained a lead in the Power Trophy by 22 points from Ray Foley.

Points

View the standings after rounds 13 & 14

Points

At the Prize Giving, the trophies were presented by Caitlin Metzner, the “Grove and Dean Driver of the Weekend” award going to Stacey Dennis who described it as her best ever day’s racing, particularly pleasing after her disappointing performance in the wet qualifying.

Our thanks to the Midland section of the BRSCC, led by Secretary of the Meeting Rita Ashman and Clerk of the Course Paul Belcher, who kept the meeting going so smoothly, despite the wet conditions on Saturday afternoon. My own thanks go to those who provided the in-car videos – Paul Plant, Dave Messenger, Richard Ford and Stacey Dennis. If you haven’t watched them you really should as there is so much that goes on round the circuit that you can’t possibly see from one viewing point.

We now go to Rockingham for the final two races of the year on September 17th/18th and we hope that we shall have a fully representative entry give 2016 a good send-off!

Michael Lindsay